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Will kettlebell swings burn fat? [Article,Video, Infographic]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Nov 27, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Will kettlebell swings burn fat?

Will kettlebell swings burn fat?

The kettlebell swing will burn fat by changing your body composition in favor of muscle mass compared to fat. The exercise itself is unlikely yo create a response in your body which will lead to high amounts of fat being burned. The reasons for this are outlined in the article.

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What is your goal?

The good thing about the question "Will kettlebell swings burn fat?" is that it already inherently states what your main goal is, burning fat. With this, you are already ahead of the curve because most people in the gym do not prioritize what they actually want to achieve. So if fat loss is the main goal I always like to dig a bit deeper with my clients.
  • Why do you want to lose fat?
  • How much fat do you want to lose by when? 
  • What do you think is the difference between fat loss and weight loss?
These questions are important to make your goal set more meaningful and therefore more likely to be achieved. In terms of why people want to lose fat, it is mainly for two reasons. The first is health, the second is looks. Both are valid, however, I always like to say that looks are deceiving.
If you want to lose fat for health reasons it is very likely that you have been diagnosed with obesity. Please stick to the recommendations of your expert. If you want to take it up a nudge by implementing kettlebell training, consult with your doctor first to see if you are ready. From my personal experience, you will get better results if you focus on your diet first and implement a more active lifestyle. Once that is done move on to exercise. You will probably have gotten a weight goal to strive towards. Let this be your guide for further planning. If you are puzzled about how much you should weigh check out the tables from the Metropolitan Life Insurance from 1983 (always good that life insurances take such good care of calculating the likelihood of you dying soon...) or the US military.
When the main driver for losing fat is the elusive six-pack be also advised that abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym. Spent the time you will most likely waste on researching some exercise program better by getting a good cooking and shopping routine together. That will have more impact to achieve your goal than exercising. Read up on the principle of macronutrients and caloric deficit and be prepared to starve yourself for a certain amount of time artificially to get to your goal. Abs usually show when you manage to go below 10% body fat.
Once you have decided what your goal is the next question is by when you want to reach it. The faster you want to reach it, the more aggressive and risky your approach gets. If I want to lose 100kg in a month you can get  the fat surgically removed. The potential risk is that you do not survive the procedure (the most extreme example) or have some kind of scarring across your belly (from a keyhole scar to a very big one, depending on how the operation goes). If you want to lose 100kg in a year depending on your starting weight you might be able to do this in two years with a less aggressive approach involving diet changes, exercising and some optical repairs in a less aggressive surgery to remove skin at the end of the process. 
No difference on losing fat for aesthetic purposes. You can eat tablets like Smarties which get all of the water out of your system to make your muscles show better within a month or even a week. The thing is that this will probably expose you to risk of dehydration, which can lead to brain damage and cardiac arrest. Never mind that you also can get addicted to certain supplements. If you, however, take three months to six months time to prepare for your competition and keep the extreme appearance limited to that time window, you might get away with less harmful and therefore less risky approaches. So how much you want to burn by when does matter.
The last point is the difference between fat loss and weight loss. You can stay at the same weight while still losing fat. Losing fat and losing weight is often used as the same in language, even though they are two different things. If you are of average weight and just feel uncomfortable and unfit I am a fan of keeping the weight in the same region (5kg window) and lose fat in favor of muscle. Here the kettlebell can help.

How does the body burn fat?

The fitness industry wants to put a big emphasis on the importance of exercising to lose fat because that is how the money is made. Before asking the question of "Will kettlebell swings burn fat" it is important to understand how the body burns fat and how your metabolism works. At least at the surface, as biochemistry is a mountain to conquer which we can not cover fully in this article.
The preferred energy source of your body is not fat. It is sugar. Your cells will first turn to Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) as they have direct access to this easy source of energy. Once this is used up your body will turn to breaking carbohydrates down to forms of energy. This takes longer than with ATP but is still the preferred chemical process over breaking down fat. 
In addition, when you look at energy expenditure there are three types of processes in your body which need energy. The first is your basal metabolism, the second is your digestive metabolism and the third is the movement metabolism. Kettlebell training only attacks the third one directly.
Depending on the individual the basal metabolism takes the lion's share of the energy household with 60 to 70 percent. It covers functions like your lunge, heart pumping, and brain functioning. YOu can only influence this process indirectly through your exercises by increasing your entire level of fitness.
The second system is simply for digesting foods. Breaking down proteins to sugar and protein into amino acids usually, burns 10 - 15% of your daily calories. Protein takes the top spot using 25 calories to be burnt for every 100 calories consumed. Carbohydrates and fat usually burn 10 to 15 calories to be digested for every 100 consumed.
This only leaves 15 to 30 percent for the movement metabolism. As you can see anything you can do to have an impact on the first two systems, like making conscious choices about your diet, will have a bigger impact with less perceived strain than exercising. Do not fret though, there is one major benefit in which kettlebells help to burn fat. Regular exercising changes your body composition in favor of muscle tissue over fat tissue. Muscles are hungrier for energy than fat. The more muscle you have the faster you will burn through all other energy sources to than burn fat in the end.
One dietary approach which has gained popularity lately and I have used successfully is the ketogenic diet. Simply put, you mainly eat fat as a source of energyto force your body to change to a chemistry plant driven by fat rather than carbohydrates. 
Now we have spent the time to understand your metabolism a bit better to avoid that you fall victim to deceit. I tmight even help you at dinner parties and when talking to friends. Usually the raunchy gossip wins over discussionsabout diet though. 

Which rep scheme is best for fat loss?

There is a big controversy about which rep and set scheme is best for certain results. Generally, you can say some exercise is better than no exercise to achieve a goal, but not necessarily optimal. Optimal is linked to your goal. What you are mainly interested in for fat loss is bringing up your heart rate (remember the basal thing).
When you look at fat loss/weight loss goals a good performance indicator to look for is calories burned over time. The more calories you burn in lesser time the more beneficial the exercise becomes for fat loss and weight loss. For strength development, you would also consider indicators like bar speed and force produced in certain directions, but these are not as relevant to the question "Will kettlebell swings burn fat". The good news about kettlebells is that they also help with these strength indicators which other exercises with higher calories burned per time frame like rowing and running do not do to the same extent.
One study which helped to kick off the kettlebell craze was conducted by the American Council of Exercise in 2010. Here are some excerpts:

“Following a basic warm-up, subjects did 15 seconds of one-armed snatches, first with their dominant hand, then after a 15-second rest period, they performed another 15 seconds of snatches with the other hand.

The workout continued like that, with intervals of 15 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest, for 20 minutes, followed by a five-minute cool-down.”

“So they were burning at least 20.2 calories per minute, which is off the charts. That’s equivalent to running a 6-minute mile pace. The only other thing I could find that burns that many calories is cross-country skiing uphill at a fast pace,”

What you can take away from this is that kettlebells are a good alternative to running in terms of calories burned per minute. So if you are asking "Will kettlebell swings burn fat" based on the motivation to avoid running you are in luck. As this study is referenced often without providing the full context a word of caution regarding the results and how it was conducted.
The sample was small ( 10 volunteers ) and experienced in kettlebell training. The fact that snatches were performed, usually referred to as the "King of all kettlebell exercises" also leads to the conclusion that the group was very proficient in getting the maximum out of each repetition. Take this into consideration as mastering running to burn calories takes less time than the kettlebell snatch. The kettlebell swing might result in less impressive results than the snatch. 
If you are considering kettlebells for fat loss, pick a rep and set scheme which is biased towards producing a high cardiac response. This can be circuit training, on the minute workouts or all out sets until failure. Out of these options, I like the on the minute workouts best. Circuit training usually needs more floor space, equipment and has higher injury risk as you have to refocus on different movement patterns often. Sets to failure are something which I avoid entirely to stay away from ingraining faulty movement patterns.

How do you use a kettlebell?

The kettlebell swing is a complex movement, even though it looks very easy when you observe it from the sidelines. The great advantage of compound exercises which involve multiple muscle groups like the deadlift, bench press, kettlebell swing and barbell squat is that you get a lot done in a relatively short time window. The disadvantage compared to isolated exercises which you perform on machines is that you can do a lot wrong with them, as there is no guidance and stabilization during the movement. (Pretty simple example: You can drop kettlebells and barbells on your foot, which is unpleasant at best. Hard to do with a pulley system)
Always get proper instruction. It is your body and you only have one. Replacement parts are hard to come by once they are broken, even though our bodies have an ingenious way of repairing themselves. The body is a very complex machine, be mindful of that. Good kettlebell instructors can be found via the Strongfirst website near you. Another option is to read one of Pavel Tsatsoulin's books on kettlebells.
Most important points:
  • The top of the swing is a plank. You stand straight cracking a walnut with your butt cheeks and ready to receive a punch to the stomach
  • The swing is a hinge, not a squat. Momentum comes from the hips, not from the knees and arms
  • The arms/hands only hold the kettlebell. There is no pull from the arms or shoulders.
  • You are the master of the kettlebell during the entire movement, not its slave. 
The videos from Strongfirst are very instructive and I have added one below.

Do you really need to burn fat?

This infographic will help you to see whether you should shed some pounds or not. Thanks to the team at re:new Bariatrics who provided it to improve this article. 

Ideal Height & Weight Chart



The kettlebell swing can burn fat by building muscle mass which changes your metabolism and its preferences. In itself, the impact on burning fat is smaller than you might expect because you usually only do 20 minutes of exercising with kettlebells. In this time frame, you usually do not expend enough energy for your metabolism to make a substantial shift from carbohydrates to fats as a source of energy.

Further reading


Topics: Lift stronger, Food & Diet, Kettlebell